Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/October 1912/Industrialism
By Professor CHARLES S. SLICHTER
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
IT is unusual nowadays to write hopefully of our own times; it is so easy to point out the shortcomings of the industrial age, and so difficult clearly to see beyond the rapid changes of our times and properly to measure the huge forces now at work in society. To many critics, this is but the age of material things; poetry, faith, the hope eternal, have quite forsaken the human heart. Such critics look upon the industrial leader and the engineer as just so much wasted material that might have gone (in a better age, of course) to make a poet or an artist. I shall not attempt to explain industrialism, or to seek an inner meaning without admitting the transient evils—to do so would be to claim that great epochs of readjustment are not periods of discomfort and even disaster to many of the species.
Culture, in its many forms, developed and embraced no new types from the dawn of civilization until modern times, except those which burst forth in the past century. The forces that have brought the race to its present place—at least most of them—are readily agreed upon. First is war, then religion, then poetry and literature, then art, philosophy, commerce, music, capital, politics, society, science, industrialism. The first in this list I name in order of their force or potency. The final two—science, industrialism—I name last with prophetic intent. They are the new giants in modern civilization, and novel in this, that they are the first great forms of culture that are antagonistic to some of the ancient types which have so long dominated human destiny.
Must I justify placing war first among the forces that have given us the civilization of to-day? It is enough to illustrate it by our own century and a third of national experience. War it was that gave us independence. It was the Mexican War that confirmed us a Pacific, as well as an Atlantic, power—with all the consequences that must flow therefrom in the distant future. Again, it was civil war that knit us together as a nation, and made us strong to work out our destiny as a single people. And again it was war that entered us upon our career as a world power, a new nationalism at home, a new imperialism abroad. And lastly, it was war—trivial it is true, only a Panama revolution let loose from Washington, but, nevertheless, war—that gave us Panama and has led to one of the most far-reaching results of all time—namely, the proof that the white man can conquer the tropics. Thus is war the mightiest, as well as the most monstrous, of the culture forms that have yet influenced the race. No language rolls the "r" sufficiently to pronounce "war" as it should be pronounced.
These old forces of civilization—war, religion, poetry—have been harmonious coworkers; only a few unpleasant incidents to record in the happy family. Whether war for religion's sake, or religion in the cause of war, or poetry in praise of war and its heroes, or poetry in the service of religion, the forces have not often pulled against each other, but, in the main, together, and the paths in the various fields have not been divergent, but convergent. Homer, Achilles, Moses, David, Cæsar, Mohamet, Charlemagne, Dante, Shakespeare are all artists upon the same canvas.
In a large sense, science and industrialism are not two forces, but a single force. Industrialism is merely science in action, or militant science. But in reality this distinction is a large one. To make industrialism from science, one must add other elements—such, for example, as ambition for power, a greed for exploitation, or a lust for money, or any combination of these. Of course industrialism could not have developed except from the soil of science.
The brief history of industrialism is interesting. I shall divide it into three periods. In the beginning the exploitation of labor was, perhaps, the dominant quality. Now the exploitation of labor was nothing new in the world, for it dates back to the time of the first slave. What I mean is that after a long period of partial emancipation in which the common man had gained a certain power of individual assertion and independent existence, industrialism came along and built up the necessary great groups of dependent industrial workers. The exploitation of labor was on a new scale and done almost consciously as in slavery. Then, as industrialism grew and science pointed out more and more what the new movement really meant, the exploitation of labor became more nearly secondary to the exploitation of nature or of natural resources. To take in private possession and hold against the people the natural wealth of a country was, perhaps, not altogether a new thing, but the machines, the processes, the transportation, the organization, the communication that science developed made the exploitation possible and abundantly worth while. Next there entered the third and greatest period, namely, the period characterized by the exploitation of the middle classes. Now here is one of the greatest discoveries of our times. The so-called middle classes are almost solely the product of industrialism. The modern industries of a country and the commerce resulting therefrom are the only forces that have anywhere built up a large middle class. The best ways to tap the savings of this class, although just discovered, are now pretty well worked out. The American industrial trust, the German syndicate, the new-style organization of banking, the perfected method of handling insurance and trust companies, the public service corporations, the modern stock exchange, are some manifestations of the great vacuum cleaner that is sucking away at the savings of the middle classes. This, I say, is the richest field of exploitation yet discovered. Do not misunderstand me, however. I do not mean that at a meeting of the Directors of the Biggest National Bank, or of the Greatest Life Insurance Company, or of the United States Industrial Corporation, the captain of the captains of industries arises and says: "Gentlemen, the exploitation of the middle classes is the greatest discovery of modern times. What can we do to-day to further this cause? What is next to do to tap the savings of this class?" I say I do not mean that this actually happens. A thing need not be done consciously in order to be done. The result is the same whether done consciously or unconsciously. What I mean is, for example, that a monopoly price for steel against a world market considerably less is an instance of the exploitation of the middle classes. Remember, also, that formerly the savings in the cost of production by improved methods and new inventions largely accrued to the consumer. Under modern organization of industries, this saving goes very largely to increased profits and, more than that, to increased capitalization—that is, from the pockets of the middle classes. Formerly, the leaders in the industries were manufacturers, men not far removed from the middle classes themselves. Now the leaders in the industries are not manufacturers, but so-called financiers, artists in handling funds, men interested in profits, not products—and profits in large part made from the middle class by the nursing of stocks and the shuffling of securities, and not alone by the manufacturing and selling of realities. Again the control of banks and insurance companies, for the purpose of industrial adventure and for strategic ends, works primarily against the middle classes. The irony of the new force, which makes the cleaning-up process almost perfect, is seen in the unloading upon the middle classes themselves, through organized underwriting campaigns and the short circuiting of the market, of the very obligations created in the organization of the exploiting machinery.
There are many other counts that might be added to the true bill against industrialism. Many of these are often brought to our attention by those who dote on the apparent shortcomings of the present era. Industrialism has augmented and aggravated city life, and has put the moral and physical fibers of men to new tests. It has attracted the brightest intellects to leadership in its army, much to the loss of politics, and the professions and the arts. All these things are, in a way, true. But it is not the purpose of this paper to convict industrialism, but to acquit it, so I must not catalogue its apparent shortcomings. I shall now attempt to show that industrialism, moving forward on the rails laid by science, is working for good and not for evil, and that the things commonly criticized are but transient phases of a great movement, which, in its main features, is making for the advance of the race and toward the very highest ideals.
Let me again remind you that industrialism is but another name for science in action. The pure science of the study or laboratory it is not. This same science joined to some form of worldly ambition is industrialism. Therefore, where science leads, it must follow. It is, I claim, the most dependent upon science of all purely worldly activities. These things I shall attempt to make clear as I proceed. Trace forward what science must do for us, and we shall comprehend whither industrialism is leading.
Do not forget these truths: It is science that is dominating this age, this twentieth century, and not industrialism. Science works through industrialism. Science dominates industrialism. Science corrects the evils it itself creates. Science has not only changed the forms and conditions of our physical existence, it has altered our mental life, has controlled our views and changed the basis upon which rest our fears, hopes and opinions. The old forms of culture have been so long present as factors in the life of the race, that it is hopeless to trace out their due contribution to society. Causes have slowly fused with effects, and influences, at first external, have become internal, a part of life itself. Not so with the newest type of culture. Science is now at work remaking the world, primarily a force from without. Its first great effect is spiritual rather than material. It has spread through humanity a spirit of optimism. It has made optimists of every one, especially of the common man. So much has been accomplished by science, although but vaguely comprehended, that the ordinary man deems all things possible. Science, through its many phases and effects, has become the moral sunshine of modern life. It warms and cheers and gives a joy and hope to this present life that former generations but hesitatingly attributed to a future existence.
I shall now illustrate the way in which science corrects the evils it itself creates, and show that the dangers brought in by the new culture are merely transient. Science, the father of industrialism, is the ultimate parent of that tremendous exploitation of the natural wealth of the world which in two generations has spent more of our coal, iron and many other resources than were used by all of the preceding generations. Science has created the problem of conservation. Now I read nowhere in the books of the conservationists that science is the real criminal that has caused our natural resources to be exploited. Perhaps I find it not there, because science, now the prosecutor, must forget its own crimes.
Science has not only created the problem of conservation, but it has spread abroad a spirit of optimism that makes men believe that all will still be well when the soil is in the ocean, and iron is rust and the last lump of coal is on the hearth. It is science that has created the new faith that makes of conservation a real and a difficult problem. But if science has created the problem of conservation and has spread a faith as an obstacle to its solution, it is still true that science alone can furnish the remedy. It is but poetic justice that science and the leaders in science must now point the way and carry much of the burden. Science must now give, and it is giving, the solution of the problem it itself has created.
What is true of the problem of conservatism is true of all of the difficulties and evils brought to us by science, whether directly or through industrialism. Science brings its own remedies and removes the evils it itself creates. If it were otherwise, science would not be science.
A second influence of industrialism that is rarely credited to it is the changed view held by the prosperous classes as to their obligation to society in general. Public opinion no longer supports the man whose life brings no form of high service to his fellow men. The very fact that business and industry are organized on so large a scale soon convinces us that the personal independence of the proprietor no longer exists. Scores of new dependencies and checks hem him about. He sees that his life must be one of social purpose and not pleasure. As obscurely as this truth is often seen, and as glaringly as it is contradicted by the sporty spirit and the society itchings of the new-rich, we must hold it as one of the characteristics of our era that social purpose and not play is dignified by industrialism. Riding to hounds as a vocation no longer gives the complete social satisfaction that it once did.
Let us now turn from these, which are, after all, minor influences of industrialism, to a consideration of some of the major tendencies. Perhaps the greatest mission of science and industrialism to our era is the removal of controversy from human progress. This is indeed a great service to mankind—to narrow the field of strife, to remove obstacles, to settle great public matters by bringing to bear accurate data, adequate analysis of cause and effect, and expert judgment—so that contention, or partisanship or politics, is eliminated, and things are settled on their merits. This phase of the industrial age is fast developing. The numerous expert commissions appointed by the states and government to investigate and determine important questions upon the basis of exact knowledge is a pertinent illustration. The Wisconsin Commission is settling all matters concerning the public utilities solely after adequate investigation and skilled tests. These same matters can never again become the football of partisanship or political manipulation. Likewise the commission form of municipal government is removing from the field of politics, and local contention, questions which are really largely matters of skill and exact science. The best kind of water supply, the proper sort of sewage disposal, the best way to handle streets, street-railways, public parks, schools, playgrounds, public health, the housing problem, etc., are no longer matters of fight or ballot in well-ordered communities. There exists always a best way and experts are selected to find and direct it. The modern civilized community is no longer a state, but a School. The body politic has become one vast, complexly organized, research institution. Governments are, in this age of industrialism, instruments for replacing darkness with light, for substituting for the indefinite and approximate, the definite and accurate. This is about all there is to the best public service. The state has become a great thinking, investigating organization, or laboratory, or research institution. There is this distinction between the school and the state: the school researches only, the state researches and acts.
The illumination of great public matters by modern scholarship is best illustrated by what is constantly occurring in the countries of western Europe. There, as every one knows, municipalities are in the hands of experts whose life work is a study, as in a laboratory, of the needs of the community and its individuals. Nothing is left to chance, and little to choice, except when the people can be trusted to choose wisely. The city and state with its utilities, sanitary inspection, land purchase, construction and sale of homes for working men, control of food, care of children, supply of milk, expert advice to mothers, the promotion of all sorts of special schools, museums, galleries, theaters, concert halls, municipal banks, pawnshops, employment bureaus, industrial insurance, old-age pensions, etc., etc., is conducting a laboratory for racial and civic betterment, and is carrying upon the broad shoulders of the state the burden that a democracy would shift to the people themselves. All new or difficult questions receive special study and an honest attempt is made to settle them in the best manner.
The doctrine of the president of the University of Wisconsin that the state university exists for and should serve all of the people of the state is but a recognition in another form of a principle which has been admitted by older civilizations for a generation or more. Whether an American state will be willing to go at present very far on this path is questionable. It is too far a step from the reign of pull and graft to the rule of knowledge. But in the end the state will accept the higher leadership, no matter how many ups and downs may intervene.
Another of the major influences of industrialism has been its destructive power over democratic government. Democracy, the dream of the eighteenth century, became the illusion of the nineteenth. Government of the people, by the people, has not only never been realized, it would probably have been undesirable, if realizable. Whatever name may be given to the modern well-ordered government, it is not democracy. The duties of the state have become too complicated, too much continuity of service and scholarship is required of its experts, to permit that direct dependency upon the electors that democracy presupposes. About as well select a university faculty by popular vote, as to get together the administrative body of a great state by choice of the people. Those governments which are most democratic in form have not always been most democratic in fact. In America we have had rule by those who could profit most by ruling. Again, American democracy has been minimized by the courts of law, a new sort of autocracy but little dreamed of by the makers of our government—a form of autocracy that would long ago have proved intolerable were it not for the scholarship and patriotism of our higher courts. The popular preachers of democracy, such as Roosevelt and La Follette, contradict their own doctrine of the cure of democracy by more democracy, by many of the policies they advocate. The short ballot, the numerous commissions and many other planks of their platform have little to do with government of the people, by the people. What is left is government for the people. There is daily less and less in government that can be left to chance and less that should be left to choice. The public welfare has become complex, controlled by the intricate forms of modern organized society. Its proper guidance is a subject of skill and knowledge and special training, rather than a matter of votes.
The last of the major influences of industrialism that I shall consider is the effect upon Christianity. A startling phenomenon of the nineteenth century was the panicky alarm shown for a time by the church as science rather suddenly took its place among the older forces of civilization. The churchmen became especially agitated at Darwinism and the laying bare of the facts at the basis of the genesis of species. The good Bishop of Oxford, in his now famous attack on Darwinism at the British Association meeting of 1860, was as little prepared for the celerity with which his position would become obsolete among his own clergy as he was unready for the swiftness and completeness of Huxley's reply. For a time there was conflict and controversy. Then there followed peace. The clergy soon realized that to be priests of darkness was not to be priests at all. The church discovered that there could be no enemy in science and scholarship. Even to the present time, however, the world has not fully awakened to the fact that science is not only not an enemy, but that it is the most potent ally that Christianity has yet found. During the twenty centuries of its history Christianity has not struggled alone. War, poetry, art, music, have diligently served it. But it has required the slow treading of centuries to find that war has no place in such a list. It seems unbelievable, sometimes, that the progress of great ideas should be so incredibly slow among our race. The patience of Providence is boundless, for almost without exception, his great truths penetrate humanity only after many centuries. Christianity itself is no exception. In one sense, Christianity may be said to have died out a generation or two after the death of Christ, for its fundamental truth then began to vanish. When in the middle ages the church deemed itself more powerful than worldly dynasties, it had, in the essence of Christ's teachings, lost all but the semblance of the truth. Christianity was too profound a doctrine and humanity too frail a vessel.
The essential and profound truth of Christianity I take to be this : that the law of the jungle, the law of the tooth and claw, must be re- placed for the human species by a higher law; that humanity can only reach its most perfect development and realize the highest ideals through the reign of unselfishness. The beginning of Christianity thus marks the transition of man from the kingdom of a lower to the king- dom of a higher being. The Golden Rule is the definition that dis- criminates one domain from the other. It has become the mission of the industrial age to separate out from Christianity the essential from its unessential doctrine.
That the message of Christ is opposed to some of the primitive forces of culture, such as war, for example, has been but poorly dis- cerned. War is the most perfect embodiment of human selfishness. It is selfishness in its most concentrated and brutal form. Let us give credit to this industrial age that has laid bare these simple truths. Science has replaced war in the list of the allies of Christianity. The exploration of nature has revealed and demonstrated the inadequacy of the law of the jungle for human progress. Science has supplied us with the methods and the laws wherewith to check up human phenom- ena and to show wherein and to what extent the selfish elements are controlling in human activities. Science is supplying the instruments, the test tubes and the balances, not for material things alone, but for checking up our own experiences, and for applying to life itself those tests that determine the elements that control in each configuration.
If science has given us the tools, the methods, the point of view, industrialism has given us the laboratory and the fiery furnace in which to test them. The bringing of men together in great dependent groups, the subdivision of human effort, the new conditions of life, the accidents and dangers of modern industrial employment, have forced upon us problems in bulk, and not in single instances. The business world has shown how to divide up investments, risks and profits by the joint stock organization. It has drilled us in the elimination of hazards and the division among the many of the ownership and reward of the industries. This very phenomenon emphasizes by contrast and makes inevitable the consideration of the sharing of the hazards of the life of the individual by society in general. To place the burdens of the individual upon the broad shoulders of the state is therefore but a reflex from industrialism itself. A community of interests among the prosperous classes and class hatred between the proprietary and the working classes can not permanently coexist. If the industrial trust brings peace where there was war, this peace must finally extend to humanity itself. Industrialism has eliminated the middle ground and the possibility of compromise. Peace between the giant groups is progress—warfare between the giant groups is destruction. Science cures the ills it itself creates.
There is thus brought up to our era as the essential terms of permanence, the acceptance of the fundamental message of Christianity. Unselfish cooperation, appreciation and love of our fellow travelers, is the condition of progress. The industrial age, as it develops, must become the most cultured, the most gracious, the kindliest of the eras that the human family has yet lived. Industrialism compels the rule of men by the principle of charity. It has brought us to a climax in human affairs. Society can push forward only on the basis of a revived and reconstructed Christianity. Charity, love, unselfishness, the Golden Rule—whatever you may name the law—has begun to be the necessary and sufficient condition of advance. This present era is not the old age of Christianity—it is its childhood. As the biologist might say, the Industrial Age is a period of rapid mutation. The type is changing. It is a day of hope and of optimism, such as the world has not hitherto known.